Bathroom adaptations to suit your tastes
Many people are put off some types of specialist bathroom equipment and adaptations because they think it might make their bathroom look ‘institutional’, like a hospital or care home. If this is a worry for you, you might want to consider adapting or customising your bathroom suite with the help of a specialist bathroom fitter – ideally one that is a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA).
This will enable you to bring the right aesthetic as well as practical considerations into the overall scheme, and to design an adapted bathroom to suit all members of your household.
For more bathroom tips, read: 7 ways to make a bathroom safer for an older person
Future-proofing your bathroom
If you’re not yet at the stage of needing specialist bathroom equipment, but are planning a revamp of your bathroom anyway, then adapting it in anticipation of future needs is an excellent way to prevent accidents and make life easier for yourself, if your mobility does start to decline.
If you’re thinking ahead about how to ensure your bathroom will be safe and easy to use later in life, read our safety considerations when adapting a bathroom.
Consulting mobility specialists
While adapting your bathroom doesn’t have to be especially complicated, it’s a good idea to get advice from a registered occupational therapist (OT) before – and during – the planning.
The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE), ‘the UK’s leading authority on inclusive design’, can also give practical design and building advice.
Financing bathroom adaptations
Adapting your bathroom might be more expensive than buying additional equipment and bath aids – although, costs do vary widely depending on your specific wants and needs, and on the quality of materials and design.
A complete new bathroom suite can cost anywhere from about £300 to £2,000 before installation, but specialist adaptations can increase the amount substantially. On the other hand, you may decide that only minor adaptations are necessary, in which case the cost might be less. Either way, adapting your bathroom to suit current or anticipated needs is likely to be a worthwhile investment.
Which? Trusted Traders has more information about typical bathroom-fitting costs.
Grants for bathroom adaptations
If you have a chronic illness or a disability that prevents you from getting into and out of the bath easily – and you intend to live in your current property for the next five years – you may be eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).
Social services or your local environmental health department may be able to offer DFGs of up to £30,000 (in England) to eligible people who want to make necessary home improvements. They also sometimes offer low-cost loans. However, your income and savings have to be assessed first, and referrals from an OT are normally required.
Buying a bath to suit your needs
If you struggle to get into and out of the bath, but still enjoy a relaxing soak in warm water, there are alternative types of baths that could help.
Walk-in baths have a door built into the side of the bath, so you don’t have to haul your body over and risk a fall. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, from short walk-in baths with a small door, designed for sitting in, to long baths with a whole side panel that opens out, suitable for those who like a long soak lying down.
The main drawback with walk-in baths is that you have to get inside before you start running the water. You therefore need to ensure your bathroom is kept at a warm temperature, so you don’t get cold while waiting for the bath to fill. You also have to wait until the water has drained away before opening the door to get out.
Baths with a built-in seat
These baths have a seat moulded into the bath itself, at the opposite end to the taps. They have the same purpose as portable bath seats – allowing you to sit half-immersed in the bath – but have the added advantage of not looking institutional and of not having a maximum weight capacity.
Baths with integral seats tend to be more comfortable than portable bath seats, as the latter normally have drainage holes or slats.
However, as with portable seats, you will still need some arm strength to move yourself from the seat into the bath itself and to get out of the bath. Also, these baths aren’t really suitable for reclining in, as the seat often gets in the way.
Read more about the different portable bath seats available in our guide to bath seats, boards and mats.
If you struggle to climb over the rim of your bath, and don’t mind the water being shallow, consider buying a bath that’s lower than the standard height. This might still require some agility and strength, but less than with standard-sized baths.
Bath lifts and hoists
If your mobility is severely limited, an OT may suggest you get a bath lift, which lifts your body from underneath, or a bath hoist, which pulls you up from above. These are more expensive than bath boards and seats, but may still be cheaper – and sometimes more appropriate – than adapting your bathroom to meet your needs. For more information about these options read our article on bathroom lifts and hoists.
Walk-in showers for the elderly
As using a bath becomes progressively more difficult, many people opt for a walk-in shower or a standalone shower cubicle to replace the bath, which can be more practical – and less time-consuming – for everyday washing.
Most showers have a shower tray at the bottom to contain the water before it drains away. Shower tray heights vary, but some have a step that’s more difficult to negotiate. If so, consider getting a walk-in shower (also called ‘level-access’ showers) or wet-floor area/room.
Walk-in showers are essentially showers without a step that you could potentially trip on. These are the best option for most people with mobility concerns. These often come with drainage pumps and/or sloped or ramped floors to minimise water leaking through the shower doors into the rest of the bathroom.
If leakage is a major concern, then a low-level-access shower, with a minimal cubicle entrance height of around 1cm, could also work.
We also completely changed the bathroom so it had a walk-in shower with handles to hold on to and so there was no step to walk out of it.
Wet-floor areas and wet rooms
Alternatively, opt for a wet-floor area, or a whole wet room. These are essentially bathrooms that have been adapted with waterproofed flooring and walls. A shower head is fixed to the wall and water runs directly on to the bathroom floor and into a drain, with no tray needed.
Wet rooms are useful if bathroom space is limited and if you want to completely avoid having a shower tray. However, it’s vital to have non-slip flooring.
Splash screens are available for showers in wet rooms.
Find out more: You can find lots more tips on Which? Home & Garden on how to plan bathroom projects and how to choose the right fixtures and fittings.
Although you can use portable (wheeled or freestanding) shower stools or chairs in the shower, the most stable option is to get a seat fixed into the shower cubicle or wet-floor area. Ensure the seat is fixed at the right height for you.
Seats can also be built into the structure of the shower cubicle or wet room. Ensure that grab rails, to be used in conjunction with a shower seat, are fixed at exactly the right spots, and at the right heights. An OT will be able to advise you on this.
Some shower controls are specifically designed to be easy to turn, grip and reach. The may also have preset dials and larger displays.
Showers with thermostatic controls ensure that the water is kept at an even temperature, or within a certain range, by way of a built-in stabiliser to automatically adjust the water temperature. This prevents any possibility of scalding, or of the water becoming uncomfortably cold.
If you’re finding the bathroom hard to navigate, there are many products and adaptations that make it easier to use.
If you’re having difficulty at home because of poor balance or decreased mobility, consider installing grab rails.
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